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Anthony Joaquim is Making Two Championship Runs This May

Anthony Joaquims March to May was a resounding success in more ways than one.

After defeating the Halifax Thunderbirds and the San Diego Seals, Joaquim, a defenseman for the Albany FireWolves, and his teammates earned a spot in the 2024 NLL Finals against the Buffalo Bandits.

However, before the NLL Finals even get underway, Joaquim, who is also the defensive coach for the Saint Joseph Hawks Mens Lacrosse team, will be prepping his collegiate players for their NCAA DI Mens Lacrosse Championship first-round battle against the University of Virginia Cavaliers (and NLL draft picks Payton Cormier and Jack Boyden) on May 11th.

Albany Firewolves v. San Diego Seals 05–03-2024 Semifinals – Game 1 Anthony Joaquim (Photo: Jake Whiting)

This will be the FireWolves’ first-ever NLL Finals appearance, and, as the youngest team in the league, they have the chance to do something extraordinary this season. If they can beat the Bandits in the finals, they will become the 12th team in the leagues 37-year history to win the championship. For Joaquims Hawks, this will be their second-ever NCAA DI Mens Lacrosse Championship appearance – but they are still searching for their first-ever title.

As a player in one league and a coach in another, it is often a tricky balancing act for Joaquim to be around all of his guys as much as he would like. The NLL and NCAA seasons overlap from February through May, and most of the games in each league are on the weekends.

Unfortunately for Joaquim, he cannot be with the Hawks when he and the FireWolves are traveling and playing. However, from Monday to Friday (and during FireWolves’ bye weeks), Joaquim puts on his coachs hat and is ever present with his collegiate team. This coming weekend is a perfect example of how Joaquim has to miss being with one team to be with the other. The FireWolves are always his main priority in these cases. 

The FireWolves are headed to Oakville this weekend for NLL Finals prep at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (the TRAC). In times like these, it is difficult for Joaquim not to be on the sidelines for his Hawks. He spends so many of his waking weekday moments prepping his college players for their weekend wars, only to not be there during those crucial in-game moments. It can often be gut-wrenching to watch from afar.

It sucks not being there live to give them some coaching points and adjustments here and there throughout the game,Joaquim said. All I can do is watch online from wherever it may be. My teammates in Albany have seen me get all excited whenever something good happens [for St. Joes] and if a goal is scored or if [they] have a bit of a breakdown; Im kind of losing it a little bit. Its kind of like Im on pins and needles throughout the game, and I cant do anything.

Even though he can’t be with the Hawks for this weekends matchup, he knows what his guys and the rest of the coaching staff, including head coach Taylor Wray, a former NLLer, are capable of. The Hawks are on a 12-game win streak, and they and Joaquim are not ready to let that streak end now. If the unseeded Hawks can upset the sixth-seeded Cavaliers, they will move on to the tournaments quarterfinals for the first time in their programs history.

Im excited about what we were able to accomplish,Joaquim said. That was our goal from the start of the year – to make the A-10 tournament and become A-10 champions – and we did that.

On the NLL side of things, despite being the higher seed in this best-of-three matchup with the defending champion Bandits, the FireWolves are widely considered underdogs. But, by this point of the season, theyre used to that. No one expected the FireWolves to be in the NLL Finals. Nevertheless, they’ve been able to shock the lacrosse world, in part, by embracing a Why not us?” mentality.

Anthony Joaquim won the NLL Cup with the Colorado Mammoth in 2022, against the Buffalo Bandits.
(Jack Dempsey, KeyBank Center/National Lacrosse League)

Itll be a tall task [to beat the Bandits],Joaquim said. Theyve had a lot of success over the past couple of years, and, obviously, winning it last year as an added bonus for that core group of guys that have been there four, five, six, seven years now, will be a tough test for us. Those two wins were great for us, but thats in the past. Now, were focusing on Game One and Game One only. Going into that game is our main and only focus right now.

You can see Coach Joaquim coming out in that answer – I guess you cant take the coach out of the player. Joaquim is as programmed to coach as much as he is programmed to play – when he’s on NLL floors in the midst of a game, Coach Joaquim comes out sometimes. He is, after all, part of the veteran leadership group and is an extension of the FireWolves’ coaching staff when hes battling with his brothers. Still, Joaquim is aware that he needs to manage his two roles while hes playing.

Theres a fine line between playing and coaching,Joaquim said. But I find Im always trying to reiterate the things that I say and try and do them on the floor myself. Its a good reminder for me that if I say something, that I better be doing it, too.

The youthful team, including NLL Rookie of the Year finalists Alex Simmons and Tye Kurtz, has put itself in this position by playing way beyond its years. Each NLL season, there are a few young players who are part of the cream of the crop, but rarely, if ever, do you see a team with such little experience across the board assert themselves as one of the best teams in the league.

This years FireWolves have managed to do that. For Joaquim, who is one of a few 30-somethings on this team and one of two NLL champions on the FireWolves, hes been so impressed by what his team has been able to accomplish on the floor.

Having all these young guys thinking big picture and just being in the moment is huge,Joaquim said. Its been awesome to be a part of and to just see that. I also get reminders from them, too. These younger guys are playing a lot older than they actually are, which is great for their growth and its just great to have on a team.

Joaquim will be trying his best to stay even-keeled over the next few weeks, although that might be very challenging. He understands how big these moments are and is determined to give all he can to put both of his teams in the best position to win their respective championships. At the end of the day, Joaquim can control what only he can control, but he hopes to conclude his marches to May by lifting two trophies.

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